Monday, May 14, 2012

Ryan Dancey Is Basically A Con Artist

The best news I've heard all month: Paizo Goblinworks has a Kickstarter!

A recap: Six months ago, Paizo hired Ryan Dancey, brains behind the OGL, who had just left his position as Chief Marketing Officer of CCP (developers of EVE Online) coincidentally around the same time CCP had a marketing debacle so bad the CEO had to apologise to their customers. Also completely coincidentally, Dancey had convinced Paizo that what they really needed was a sandbox MMO. All they need are a few little things like staff, investors, a few hundred thousand dollars.

A few months and approximately zero dollars later, Dancey needs your help! Enter this Kickstarter, which asks for $50,000 for... a technology demo that he can show to investors.

So, a funding drive for a funding drive.

Dancey can write a strong opener, at least. The pitch basically begins with Paizo taking credit for Vampire and Magic: The Gathering. Smooth! Also, did you know Ryan Dancey is the Steve Jobs of MMO marketing? I mean I would have gone with Kevin Siembieda personally, but I have a soft spot for the guy and Steve Jobs' career has the same future prospects so let's roll with it.

The meat of every Kickstarter lies in the rewards, though. What have we got?

At the basic $5 level, you get "an exclusive long video of the final Technology Demo." So basically, a Let's Play of a tech demo of an unfinished MMO. If that sounds anything like "We get to watch the game in action!" to you, well, here's the tech demo for Doom. Tip: It's not called a "content demo".

Oh yeah, and according to the FAQ, they're releasing most of the video for free anyway.

At $15 you get a 64-page PDF of a book about a city they're going to use in the game, and I am so glad the cover art is only a mockup because what the Christ. Also, half of those pages aren't actually gaming stuff, but "written by our Pathfinder Online design team, letting you into Goblinworks’ design philosophy and giving you inside information gleaned from the development of our technology preview." What fucking inside information? Dancey's magical adventures convincing Lisa Stevens to write him more paychecks while he workshops vaporware?

At $100 you get a Goblinworks t-shirt. There's no picture of the t-shirt.

At $250, you become a "Goblinworks Founder", which means you get a certificate and a special icon on the Goblinworks messageboards. You know, to make sure people on AND offline know you're a fucking idiot.

At $1,000, you get to actually play Pathfinder Online! By which I mean playtest the alpha. You do get to give "direct input on how Pathfinder Online ends up looking and playing", though! Wow! They sure are listening to the fans!

(You know what they call people who give input on how games end up looking and playing? Playtesters.)

At $2,000, and yes these are still going, you'll get to play the technology demo itself! Wow! Not only that, but you'll do it at Goblinworks HQ, where you get to hang out with Paizo for the day! Lunch is included, even! Not lodging and transport, though, which you will have to pay for yourself. Also, if you can't make the day they pick, too fucking bad.

Finally, at $5,000 (Jesus Christ), you and five friends (or five people from Paizo if you have no friends, and let's face it, you just ponied up $5,000 to fund a technology demo of a vaporware MMO based off a Dungeons & Dragons knockoff) will play an RPG for 5 hours with a celebrity GM of your choice! While I would definitely pay money to roll with Rich Baker (dude did 7th Edition Gamma World, come on), I wouldn't pay $5,000 for the privilege. There's more, though! That evening, you'll get to eat dinner with Ryan Dancey, Lisa Stevens and your celebrity GM!

(Transportation and lodging is your problem.)

And at the time of writing, someone already backed this. Someone actually gave Dancey $5,000 to promise to maybe promise to make an MMO later.

Hell, the entire fucking thing is paid for. Right now, 1,232 backers have pledged ~$77,000 to keep alive Dancey's vaporware dreams for a bunch of rewards which mostly boil down to "we will give you a thing that says you donated". There's already a  new video in which Dancey actively encourages people to keep donating. Why, though? I mean, he explicitly said this Kickstarter was for the tech demo only and not an MMO he can't promise he'll deliver yet (because it's fucking vaporware), so I guess extra money goes to the tech demo?

"If additional funding from the Kickstarter won't go towards making the demo bigger, what will it be used for? We're glad you asked! Extra funding will allow us to bring more resources to the table faster. We may be able to accelerate our hiring plan, and begin the task of expanding the work we're doing to create the technology demo into the alpha version of the game. And, of course, the more money we raise, the better Pathfinder Online looks to investors!"

Or I guess Dancey and Goblinworks are skimming the excess. That's cool too.

Oh, and there's a stretch goal now! Sort of. Actually, instead of a new money target, they're shooting for number of backers - Dancey wants to point to this Kickstarter and say "Look how many people want this MMO to happen!". (Personally I am incredibly skeptical that a few thousand Pathfinder fans, at least some of which must be backing just for the PDF, translate to a sustainable MMO base but hey whatever, I'm not Steve Jobs.)

You know what, though? I hope he succeeds. I hope it gets more backers. I even hope Kickstarter doesn't shut this down despite the posters reporting it for basically exploiting the letter of Kickstarter's guidelines to bilk Pathfinder fans. I hope this tech demo gets released and everyone gets to watch their glorious Youtube of a generic fantasy dungeon made with outdated middleware on a shoestring budget, and think "fans paid tens of thousands of dollars for this".

Hell, you know what? I hope someone invests in this, at least enough to keep this going another six months. This is a fucking hilarious schadenfreude clusterfuck. Start another Kickstarter if you have to.

I want to see this lumbering monster shamble through the Internet like an octopus who has somehow found a way to become morbidly obese, prolonging its inevitable collapse as long as it can. I want to see the fans who seriously sank hundreds, even thousands of dollars into this fucking thing cling to it as long as possible, convincing themselves this is totally going to happen any day now and sinking hundreds more.

I want to see the fanbase's reaction when they can't prop it up any longer and the project finally goes down, taking their money with it.

Keep going, Pathfinder Online. I love you.